When we visited Spain and Catalonia, we spent plenty of time hiking, but we also wanted to explore the area where Marc’s mum, Araceli and her family grew up. Marc’s granddad is from a small village called Aulet which was abandoned in the middle of the last century. After he had to leave his village, he moved to El Pont de Suert, where Araceli grew up. This is the main town at the edge of the Vall de Boí valley. Neither of these places is particularly touristy, but they were fun to explore, so I’d like to share both with you all.
Since we got home I found out that there are over 3000 abandoned villages in Spain. Nowadays they are starting to be sold off, so if you fancy living in these gorgeous mountains, so can buy a whole village from €50,000(!)
El Pont de Suert – the basics
Pont de Suert was founded in the early 11th century and was important as a marketplace located on the crossroads between regions. It is located 840m above sea-level, right on the Noguera Ribagorçana river. Catalonia is one side of the river with Aragon on the other. This is where my lovely mother in law, Araceli, grew up; So we were really keen to visit it.
Iglesia Nueva de la Asuncion
The building that stands out most in Pont de Suert is the new Church of L’Assumpció, which was built 1955. It is very different to the older Catalan Romanesque Churches we found in the Vall de Boí. The architect was Eduardo Torroja Miret. Marc’s mum mentioned that there was an uproar when it was first built, but it is interesting to see. I quite liked the egg-like buildings.
El Pont de Suert back streets
Once you’re in the narrow medieval streets, you can see why they decided to build so close together. It is a great way to keep out the sun’s heat in the middle of the day. There is an old Romaneque church, Església Vella, down by the river which has been converted into a museum of religious art – Museu d’Art Sacre de la Ribagorça. Unfortunately it was closed when we visited so we didn’t get to peek inside.
There is quite a lot of street art around El Pont de Suert, decorating walls, especially near car parks. Most of it seemed to depict the local region, with murals about agriculture and Catalan culture. We noticed many of the larger houses have what looks like giant brooms hanging outside. These are huge torches. I didn’t get a good photo of the actual torches, but you can see them depicted on this mural.
The Bridge in Pont de Suert
The original bridge (pont) the town is named after was washed away. Marc’s mum mentioned that they used to be regular floods here before a power station was built further up the river. We looked down at the Noguera Ribagorçana river from the new bridge. It is super calm now!
Restaurante Les Cumbres
We had a couple of meals in Pont de Suert, but the best one was at Restaurante Les Cumbres on the main street, next to the new church. We all ordered a set meal which was €18 for three courses for some glorious food.
I tried asparagus with Romesco sauce (a gorgeous Catalan tomato based sauce). My mum had pumpkin soup which looked tasty too. For the main, I ordered slightly seared tuna with a sesame dressing, while Marc had some Catalan-style meatballs.
I thought I was too full for dessert, but the waiter told me their almond cake is fantastic, so somehow I made space for it. Marc went with crème caramel. It’s funny how we all seem to have a separate stomach for puddings.
Just outside Pont de Suert is a reservoir that collects the beautiful blue glacial water from the surrounding Pyrenees. A dam was built here in 1955 to produce hydroelectric power, flooding the local farmland along with a Cistercian monastery (Santa María de Lavaix ). When the water level is low, you can still see the ruins of the monastery buildings.
Aulet – Lost to the Escales reservoir
Aulet is a teeny depopulated village that juts out into the Escales reservoir. Before the area was flooded, this village would have been at the top of a hill, surrounded by farmland (a bit like the place where we stayed in Cardet.) Most of the homes were above the waterline, but all of their farmlands were flooded, so there was no longer a way for people to make a living. Marc’s grandfather grew up here and lived here until the village had to be abandoned; This is why their family moved to Pont de Suert.
Aulet – How to get there
The town is located right next to the N230 between the Escales tunnels. If you are driving from Pont de Suert, you can see the land jutting out into the Escales reservoir. If you get as far as the Escales Dam or Sopiera, you’ve driven too far! Find Aulet on google maps here. There is an area to pull in and park.
The best-preserved part of the village is the cemetery near the entrance. There are still graves with flowers on, so you can see some people still return here to visit their relatives.
The views from the cemetery show this would have been a beautiful area to live.
We even found a wayside shrine, although it was all empty now.
The sad thing is although there are quite a few buildings still standing, they are really starting to disintegrate. We went exploring to look for Marc’s grandfather’s home and the church, but we couldn’t tell the buildings apart. Trees have grown up in the middle and on the roof of many of the buildings.
We did find a pretty, hand-made sign in the middle of the village.
Still, we found plenty of small details to show how gorgeous it must have once been here.
This is the view of the Escales reservoir from the center of the village near where we think Marc’s granddad lived. Now this area’s main income is tourism, with people using the reservoir for water-sports. It is a bit of a shame that people have not returned to reclaim the land to build holiday homes there. I mean, the location is spectacular.
I find these kind of ruins incredibly poignant, especially when we heard how much Araceli’s dad longed to go back to Aulet later in life. This village had 127 inhabitants in 1910, which went down to zero by the 1970s. There must be similar stories near dams all over the world.
I realize that not everyone is going to want to visit the ruins in Aulet. But the rest of El Pont de Suert is worth exploring, especially if you want to stop for some tasty food on your way to the Vall de Boí. If you like the look of either of these, click on the pins below to save them.